Allied bombing attacks, which began in 1942 and continued until just days before
Germany's surrender, reduced many German cities, like Dresden, Essen, Berlin,
Hamburg or Cologne, to nothing more than tons of rubble. Although the war was
over and the 12-year Nazi regime had come to an end, Germany was a country in
ruins. 95 percent of the houses were damaged or destroyed and there were huge piles
of rubble on the streets.
After Germany's capitulation my mother and I returned to our hometown, Essen,
and total devastation - never to be forgotten. I was barely six years old. There were no
roads and certainly no road signs visible but just a vast area of rubble and ruins.
Between 1945 and 1946, the Allied powers, both in Western and Eastern Germany
ordered all women between 15 and 50 years of age to participate in cleaning up.
I am proud that my mother was one of many socalled rubble women that had helped
rebuild the city by sitting on a pile of stones and hammering away at the mortar
and bricks for years and years until her fingers could not straighten out any longer.
Recruitment of women was especially useful because at that time, there were 7 million more women than men in Germany. The main work was to tear down
those parts of buildings that had survived the bombings. Usually, no heavy machinery was used, the main tools being picks and hand-winches. After tearing down the parts, they had to be broken into even smaller pieces, up to single bricks that could later be used in the rebuilding process.
Trümmerfrauen, or rubble women, both volunteers and regulars, worked in every weather condition. They were organized in ‘columns’ of ten to twenty people.